Sunday, February 16, 2014

Bill Monroe and the Blue Grass Boys -- "Blue Grass Breakdown" (1947)

Bill Monroe, "The Father of Bluegrass," was born on a farm in Kentucky in 1911.  He became a mandolin player because his older brothers (Birch and Charlie) had dibs on the guitar and fiddle.

After playing in several different bands with his brothers and others, Monroe formed the Blue Grass Boys and successfully auditioned for a regular spot on the Grand Ole Opry in 1939.

But the Blue Grass Boys didn't really take off until a 21-year-old banjo wunderkind named Earl Scruggs joined the group in 1945.  His innovative three-finger banjo-picking technique and his ability to play at breakneck tempos wowed the Opry's audiences.  

Scruggs displayed that technique to good advantage on the first bluegrass instrumental that Monroe wrote for the Blue Grass Boys, "Blue Grass Breakdown."

In bluegrass music, a "breakdown" is a piece that features solos by different instruments, which are called "breaks."  (In disco and hip-hop, a "break" is the part of a record where the drums and other rhythm instruments keep playing but the vocals and other instruments drop out.)

The most famous bluegrass breakdown record is "Foggy Mountain Breakdown" by the Foggy Mountain Boys, a group that was formed by Scruggs and guitarist Lester Flatt after they left Monroe's Blue Grass Boys.

Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs
"Foggy Mountain Breakdown," which sounds a lot like "Bluegrass Breakdown," was originally recorded in 1949, but didn't reach the peak of its popularity until after it was featured in Bonnie and Clyde.

Here are Flatt and Scruggs performing "Foggy Mountain Breakdown" at the Grand Ole Opry in 1965.  (You gotta love the way all the soloists change places as they take turns soloing.)

And here's an excerpt of that breakdown by the Sleepy Man Banjo Boys, three brothers from New Jersey who are 15, 13, and 10 years old today.  I think they were even younger when this video was recorded:

Most music blogs would have been satisfied to give you "Foggy Mountain Breakdown" and call it a day. 

But 2 or 3 lines didn't stop there -- no siree, Bob!  It dug a little deeper to bring you the original bluegrass breakdown record, "Blue Grass Breakdown":

Click below to buy "Bluegrass Breakdown" from Amazon:

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